Wolves to Lose Protection in Idaho and Montana

Since the first wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the population has grown to 1,500 or more

Gray Wolf Yellowstone
A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Flickr user JasonBechtel

Last month, in our February issue's "Wolves and the Balance of Nature in the Rockies", Frank Clifford, told the story of the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Rockies. Since the first wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the population has grown to 1,500 or more:

To many naturalists, the thriving wolf population was a hopeful sign that it was possible to restock wild country with long-lost native inhabitants. But as the wolves made themselves at home again, old adversaries in the ranching community sought broader license to kill them.

Those adversaries finally got their way last year, when the wolves were “delisted” and lost federal protection in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The states were tasked with management of the wolves, which mostly meant more killing of the wolves:

In the first month of relaxed regulation, at least 37 wolves were killed across the three states. By the end of July, more than 100 were dead. Bumper stickers proclaimed "Wolves—Government Sponsored Terrorists." Politicians stirred the pot. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter was widely quoted saying "I'm prepared to bid for the first ticket to shoot a wolf myself." Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming questioned whether any wolf packs outside Yellowstone in his state "are even necessary."

Twelve environmental groups successfully sued the government, and the wolves once again fell under federal protection. But before the Bush Administration ended, the wolves were again delisted, though only in Montana and Idaho. Implementation of the new rule was delayed, however, until it could be evaluated by the new administration.

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the delisting would go through:

“The recovery of the gray wolf throughout significant portions of its historic range is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “Today, we have more than 5,500 wolves, including more than 1,600 in the Rockies.”

Environmental groups have already expressed their displeasure with the situation and promise to take the matter back to court. Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife:

All the reasons why this plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it still stand today. If this rule is allowed to stand, nearly two-thirds of the wolves in the Northern Rockies could be killed. This plan would undermine the goal of ensuring a healthy, sustainable wolf population in the region. Secretary Salazar’s terrible decision leaves us no choice. We will stand up for wolves and endangered species conservation by moving immediately to challenge this delisting in court.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.